Throughout my life, I have gone through some tough times. At moments I’ve wondered if it was worth putting out my best effort and striving to be the best I could be, or instead just falling into a lackadaisical state and forgetting about all my troubles. For whatever reason, I have avoided becoming dragged down by my misfortunes and I have worked my way to success. My drive has come in part to my will to make my father and family proud. Fighting through adversity is not always the easiest choice, and life can become arduous. Sometimes I like to think back to when my life was simple and less complicated…
4:30 on a Sunday morning. My dad nudges me and says, “Time to get up.” I awake out of my dream state, cranky because it is pitch black out and I do not realize what is happening. It is far to early for me, a ten year old, to wake up. I rub my eyes and try to fall back asleep, then something hits me and I realize that today is the day. Today is the day I am finally allowed to go to the Renningers farmer’s market in Adamstown! I sluggishly crawl out of bed and drag myself into my dad’s old beat up green van. He used the van for his work, which was salvaging old buildings for antiques – like stained glass windows and church pews – and then selling them for his business. The van had many dings and scratches on it and clutter in it, but I loved it. I liked how it stood out with its bold green color; it was almost like an extension of my dad. There were only two seats in the front, the rest of the van was seatless to store cargo and supplies. I crawl into the back of the van and lay on the ground trying to sleep again, but I was too excited. This was the day I would finally see the place my dad had told me about. He’d gone there several times, and the place sounded surreal. He told me about the antique dealers there and how they sold anything you could imagine. I was really eager to see if this was true. I couldn’t fathom what I was going to see in a short while.
The ride up to Adamstown seemed like five hours though it was really only one and a half. I couldn’t wait to get there. Though I never really considered him very religious, my dad tuned the radio to a religious channel, which played church songs played on a pipe organ. I guess that was supposed to be our substitute for church that day, as we would be missing it. I remember peering up to take a glance out of the windshield and seeing the sunrise – the sky was a bluish, purplish, reddish color with swirling clouds. It was serene, especially with the religious music in the background. We drove into the sunrise all the way to Adamstown.
We pulled into the entrance to Renninger’s and I hear the tires chew up the gravel. I look ahead and feel very disappointed; all I could see was a long, one story, boring white building with lots of doors. I look out the window to the right and I see some weird looking birds fenced off that resembled ostriches. My dad said they were emus. Where were all of the antiques? Where were all the toys? What is this place with weird looking birds and a vanilla building? We kept churning through the driveway and someone directed us toward parking. We pulled forward, and then behind the building I finally saw what we were here for. Hidden behind this mundane building was a cornucopia of vendors lined up with tables full of anything and everything, and people bustling about trying to claim whatever catches their eye.
My dad parked and I sprung out of the van. I couldn’t wait to get close up and see all the interesting things I had only glanced at, but first we ate a quick breakfast of hot chocolate and some oddly cut circular French fries with ketchup; the breakfast of champions. After finishing, I could look at everything there was to offer. I remember scanning the old, rickety, gray plywood tables stocked with items from the past. We went up and down the rows of tables examining all the interesting things. There were wooden chests, old magazines, glass bottles, comic books, iron gates, records, stained glass windows, sports cards, carved wooden figurines, clocks, and any other antique or knick-knack you could think of. My dad looked mainly for wrought iron gates, stained glass windows, and vintage glass bottles, which he could sell for his business. He would stop to look at the items that caught his eye, inspect them, and if he was satisfied, the bartering process would begin.
“How much is stained glass window?”
“Seventy-five dollars, it’s a very nice window.”
“Yeah, but it’s damaged, I think it’s only worth sixty dollars?
“Well, hmmmm, I can’t sell it that low, how about sixty-five dollars?”
“I’ll take it.”
It amazed me how well my dad was able to bargain with those people. He could talk almost anyone into selling something for less than they wanted. If they refused we would continue on, then come back later to find the item still sitting there. My dad would then offer them the same price again and they would reluctantly give in.
The things I was interested in were old comic books of Spiderman and the Hulk, vintage Pez dispensers, Star Wars memorabilia, Beanie Babies, actions figures, yo-yos, cap guns, and anything to keep a kid entertained. I had a great time looking at everything even though I never really bought anything. The intrigue of the different items kept me entertained.
Once we had found our treasures for the day, we dropped them off in the van and headed into the boring white building. The doors led inside to a comfortable, lively market full of more antiques. I couldn’t believe that the boring building was actually very exciting inside. It was filled with all the same types of antiques I saw outside, and more. My dad bought a few more random antiques inside, like an old doll or painting, talked to some buddies he knew, then we headed home. I was more than satisfied with the experience. I wanted to go back every Sunday, even at the expense of losing a few hours of sleep.
I cherish this experience because it is one of the best times I had with my dad. My memories of these times still live vividly in my mind. Since that day, I went with him to Renningers farmer’s market every other Sunday to search for antiques to buy and resell. Just me and him, then when my sister was old enough, she would come, too. It was a very special time that I spent with my father. This tradition continued until one day my world was turned upside down.
My dad had been on chemotherapy to help with his disease, amyloidosis. I had no idea what the sickness was, but my parents insisted that everything would just fine. I was a little worried, but I had reason to trust them. He had developed the disease a few months before I started sixth grade. The timing of this could not have come at a more inopportune time, as I was already anxious about making the jump from elementary to middle school.
I remember being fairly nervous during my first week or so in my new surroundings, but so was everyone else. There were so many new people to meet and a new building to learn my way around. I made some new friends during the first week, and met up with my old friends from Sugartown Elementary. Things seemed to be going well, until one morning. I awoke as normal on a Saturday morning until my mom, sobbing, said she had some bad news for me. My dad had to be rushed to the hospital during the night. His amyloidosis has developed become to complex and his body could not fight it any longer.
The news hit me hard. I was totally numb; I couldn’t believe what my mom had told me. I was in disbelief for a while, I was not ready to hear that kind of news, especially at my young age. I knew my dad was sick, but I didn’t think there was any chance he would die from his disease. My whole world was destroyed because my dad meant so much to me. He was always there to joke around and make me feel better when I was sad. He let me help him at his work, and this made me feel older than I was really was. He just had a way of making me feel special and feel good about myself. I would have done anything to help him get through his predicament because he was always there when I needed him. My dad always pulled through for me, whatever the circumstance, but this time he didn’t make it. I was crushed.
I didn’t go to school for about a week; I needed to stay home and try to deal with my grief. To cope, I either moped around the house or cried in my room. It took me a while to accept that he was gone. It was just so hard to fathom; my dad was gone forever. I didn’t know how I’d ever continue on with my life. The funeral services were very hard on me. So many people I knew came to the viewing for my dad. Seeing all of my family and friends come to pay respect to my dad made me happy, but in turn made me even more sad that he died. He meant a great deal to many people, which made me even more upset that he had to be taken from us.
Once I was ready, I made my attempt to come back to school. Coming back was difficult and awkward. All of my teachers were notified about the sad news, and I’m fairly sure they informed the kids in all my classes as well. This made fitting in difficult because I’m sure most people were nice to me because they felt bad, and thus making new friends became really hard. I couldn’t tell if someone simply felt bad for me or really wanted to be my friend. I had buddies from elementary school, but most of them weren’t in my classes. I was forced to make new friends or be alone with no one to talk to. That would not have been a good way to start middle school.
I also think it was hard to make friends because I don’t think I acted like myself. After my dad died, something changed in me. In elementary school, I was fairly popular and I was friends with almost everybody in my classes. Even if I wasn’t friends with everyone, I could at least talk to them comfortably. I was close friends with my friends; we would come over to each other’s houses quite often and spend time together. We could talk about anything and joke around. But after my dad passed away, I became a lot more shy. I wasn’t able to talk to people as easily. I didn’t do things with my friends as often. Making friends suddenly became hard and I had trouble just being myself. I became self conscious knowing that everyone knew what I had gone through. I was treated differently, and I didn’t feel comfortable. I became lost in the shuffle and never made a clean adjustment going from elementary to middle school. This made the social part of school difficult for me.
Somehow I made it through the school year with some new friends that I’m still
friends with today. I have trudged through most of my school years since then. My personality is still trying to recover from those few weeks surrounding my dad’s death. I think I’ve become more outgoing than I was since sixth grade, but I’m still shy. I can not help it, if I could, I would be more friendly and talkative, but it’s hard for me to do. Not having my dad during those middle school and these high school years was really hard. Those are the times I think it’s most important to have your father. Without my dad, I struggled at time, socially and emotionally, but I made it through in one piece. I have accepted his death, but I still think about him from time to time. I think about how my life would be different and how I might be different. There is nothing that can be done about it now, so all I can do it try to be the best person I can be every day. I’m still working on trying to be open, but it can be hard sometimes.
Losing my dad was the most difficult time in my life. His death is still affecting my life, even though it happened six years ago. I hope that eventually I will become more like I was in elementary school, friendly and outgoing, but it is something I think will take a few more years. I have just recently started feeling more comfortable socially, and I hope this positive trend continues. As long as I keep being myself, I think I can get back to where I was socially before my father’s death.
The second hardest time in my life was when my mom remarried. This was another big shock to me. I was in eight grade, so this was only a couple years after my dad passed away. She had been seeing Mr. Sullivan for several months, and I had met him and his five children, aging from five to twelve, numerous times. I even knew his daughter from school. Their mother died just a week or so before my father died. We were all pretty friendly with each other, but I couldn’t believe that our family of four was actually going to combine with their family of six. There would be ten people all living under one roof! I knew this would be another monumental change in my life.
Before our parents married, all of us children got along fairly well. We liked having extra people around to play games or doing things with. I liked having siblings older than my young brother to talk to, but my positive outlook on things soon changed. Once our parents married, all ten of us moved into my family’s house. Our house only had three bedrooms and two bathrooms. There was no way ten people could live under those conditions, so an addition was necessary. While the construction was going on, my mom and step-dad slept upstairs while all seven of my siblings and I had the basement to ourselves. We were stuck down there for six months. During those six months, our living quarters turned from a pleasant, jocular area to a war zone.
We children had never been so close together. There were three bunk beds set up for the boys, and the two girls had control of the couches. I’m fairly sure there is a law forbidding this many children from living in such close proximity. I didn’t realize how annoying seven younger siblings could be. I had been able to to deal with all my new siblings at first, but that was mostly just time spent with one or two of them at a time. When all of them were together, they were unbearable. I never recalled my real brother and sister being that annoying. My brother, my sister, and I felt outnumbered; we just couldn’t take the constant yelling and screaming, the throwing of toys through the air, and mostly the nonstop talking coming from our new family.
My side of the family was more quiet and laid back than the Sullivan side, so we did not know how to adjust. I tried yelling to make them quiet down; no affect. I tried being more subtle and friendly; nothing. I tried beating them over the head; still the same constant chaos. My brother, my sister, and I did not adjust to their company very well during that time in the basement. As a result, our relationship with our new siblings started to deteriorate.
Once the addition on the house was finished, I could not wait to get out of the basement. All eight of us children received our own room. Words cannot express how happy I was. I moved all my belongings into my new room and just stayed in there by myself for a while. I finally had some solitude and a sanctuary where I could get away from everyone. My relations with my new siblings were still not going well, however.
My brother, who was the second youngest in the family, was picked on constantly. I, being the oldest, was not pestered much at all. I had to constantly stand up for my little brother. Whenever they played a game, they would make sure my brother and lost and try to make him angry. They fought with him and tried to hurt him. His things were stolen from his room and broken. I became furious at my other side of the family and began to hate them. Everything they did annoyed me. I was embarrassed to be around them. I hated them for being mean to my little brother. He was the only one in my family they could pick on and get away with it. I heard them complaining about my side of the family, and that upset me too. I tried to stay as far away from them as possible even though they lived in the same house as me.
Our family went through some tough times for a few years. My parents made us go to counseling to try to fix our problems, but it didn’t really work. We, the children, didn’t want it to work. We couldn’t stand each other and wanted to get away. The time we spent stuck in the basement started an anger toward one another that just grew and grew. Our parents didn’t know what to do.
Fortunately, over the last year or two, things have gotten a lot better. All the kids are a couple years older and more mature. Our own rooms have given us a chance to cool down. Things have gotten bearable again. My brother is not picked on nearly as much as he was before. I don’t have to look out for him every minute of the day. Everyone is less annoying than they were before. I can tolerate my step-siblings and joke around with them. I still don’t treat them quite like my real brother and sister, but I can at least treat them like friends. Things still aren’t perfect, but I guess things are never perfect with a family. Things are not as crazy anymore and that suits me well.
Overall, getting a step-family has been a trying experience. I don’t really know if it was for the best, though. My mom thought it would be the best thing for us, but I don’t know if I agree with that. I guess things turned out decently, but I know I the experience could have been handled better. If all the kids hadn’t all been stuck together for six months, I think our relationships could have had a chance to grow instead of being forced. My parents also put a lot of emphasis on being one family, not two separate families living together. Again, I think this added pressure to everyone to try and make the everything work right away. I will be off in college next year, so I’m not sure how well I’ll keep in touch with my step-siblings. Only the future will tell how well the family sticks together and how concrete our relationships become.
During these arduous times in my life, I needed some means to get away from all of the stress I was dealing with. One of the things that took my mind off of the problems at home was simply schoolwork. I spent a lot of time studying and doing homework. When I think about it now, I don’t why I cared so much about my grades. Back then, I didn’t know what I wanted to become or where I wanted to go to college, and I still don’t know the answer to either of those questions today. I invested many hours working just for the sake of getting an “A”. I guess getting good grades helped me feel better about myself. The other main thing I invested my time in was sports.
I played ice hockey all throughout middle school. The sport was such a rush for me, especially because I was goalie. Being goalie was very difficult, but also very rewarding. During my first year on the middle school team, our team was pretty atrocious. We won only one game the whole year, and I was hard on myself whenever we lost. I never considered quitting however; I made friends from playing hockey, which was a big step for me. Hockey helped me meet new people and keep my self esteem up, despite our team being dismal.
We started our second year off just as we ended the first, with a bad loss. I figured we would have the same kind of season as the previous year. However, the second game of the year, a miracle happened; we won a game. Then we won another game and then another. We ended up first place that year losing only that first game. I was enthusiastic that we did so well. For once in my life, I was a winner. I won the most improved player award, and then the next year, the most valuable player award. I gained a lot of confidence from this experience and it helped me feel much better about myself.
Once it was time for high school, I ended up quitting hockey. I thought it would be too much for me to handle along with all the work I would get from being a high schooler. I regret that I quit, though. I know now I could have easily managed school. Since I stopped playing hockey, I needed another sport to play to keep my mind off of all my problems at home. I had to choose a sport that was less time consuming than hockey (because I thought my work would become overwhelming), so I decided to take up tennis.
Tennis came to me quickly and I had fun doing it. I started off taking lessons at the Upper Main Line YMCA. I worked my way through my classes and improved, and then made the junior varsity at school during my freshman year. Tennis was another positive experience for me. I made many friends from my classes and on the team. This again helped me at school by helping me become more confident in myself. I also learned a lot about myself playing tennis for the school team.
During my sophomore year, I made the varsity tennis team. I played third doubles, which is the lowest rank on the team, but nonetheless I was proud to be on the varsity squad. During the season, my partner and I won all the matches we were supposed to win and lost all the matches we were supposed to lose. We never pulled any upsets. Our team was second in the league going into the last meet. For our final match, we played against league leading and undefeated Unionville High School.
Unionville had been the dominant team in our league for a number of years. When I was a freshman, Great Valley lost to them 7-0. No one on our team won a set, let alone a handful of games. Most of our team went into the meet with a pessimistic attitude. I, on the other hand, was very excited for the match; I wanted to prove myself. My coach had moved me up to second doubles because I had been playing well leading up to the match. I didn’t want to let my team down.
Before the match started, we went through our normal warm-up drills with our opponents. They didn’t seem that impressive to me. The match started. Before I knew it, the first set was over. We had lost 6-0. None of our shots worked; the Unionville players hit the ball back faster and more accurately than us every time. My partner and I went back to our coach discouraged, but not defeated. Our coach told us simply to keep a positive attitude and try a different strategy: “Do nothing but lob shots.”
My partner and I went back out for the second set. We put the plan into action, and our invincible opponents seemed to have a chink in their armor. They were mystified by our constant barrage of lobs; they didn’t know what to do. They became flustered and started to make errors. We ran down every ball they hit and lobbed everything back. We started to rack up games and eventually won the set! This was the first time in recent memory that Great Valley had taken a set against Unionville.
By the time we had started the third and final set, the rest of the team had already lost. We were the only ones still playing, and all eyes were on us. Our team could not win the meet, but my partner and I wanted to win our match. We kept up with our strategy of lobbing the ball and outhustling our opponents, but Unionville recovered and raised their play to a higher level. We were down match point. I did not want to lose. The ball was hit towards me, but barely within my reach. I dove, sacrificing my body, to return the ball. I made contact with the ball and fell, scraping my knuckles. I looked up, but the ball didn’t make it over the net. We lost.
This was a time that all my difficult experiences helped deal with adversity. Playing with my effort was not the easiest thing to do. The rest of the team was not very interested in the match, but I was focused to do well. Even though we lost the first set badly, I played even harder the second set. I learned from losing my dad that you can’t just lay down and fold when something bad happens. You have to pick yourself up and work keep trying to accomplish your goals.
So here I am today. I have struggled through some hardships, but I haven’t let my emotions get the best of me. I have survived all my hard times and have had success in life. When I look back at everything, I do wish that I could have done some things differently, but I can’t say that I’m disappointed with where I am today. I have a good bunch of friends and hobbies that keep me going. My future looks good thanks in part to my grades which I cared so much about at one point. I’m still not sure what I want to do with my life, but I think if I keep striving to be my best, I’ll be just fine.